Music inspired by the atrocities of the 20th century perhaps took a while to reach their peak with Britten’s magisterial War Requiem in the early 1960s, but with the centenary of the battle of Gallipoli this year, there has been a plethora of recordings of music inspired by the horrors of World War I. Some have been more successful than others but I’m glad to state that this new Melba release by the very fine Melbourne-raised and Juiliard-trained pianist Benjamin Martin, must immediately take its place at the top of the pile.
There is something quite unique about this disc, which presents a well selected programme of solo piano music by a group of fine orchestral English composers whom we we do not initially associate with the solo keyboard (Bax, Vaughan Williams, Bridge and Delius), immaculately played and intimately performed by Martin. All of this music ranks amongst the earliest inspired by the Great War – all of it being written during the 1920s and all of it is as equally affecting as the best of the period’s song cycles.
Perhaps the finest work lies with Vaughan Williams’ Prelude after a piece by Orlando Gibbons, dovetailing English music across the centuries as effectively as Strauss would, after World War II, with his contrapuntal masterpiece Metamorphosen.